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Yellowstone joins growing list of national park closures because of coronavirus

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Three of America's most well-known national parks — Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains — closed their gates Tuesday as people shut in because of the coronavirus lost more options for recreation. They join a growing list of national parks site from New York to California that have closed, including the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz.

Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, and neighboring Grand Teton, announced their closures hours after Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. They follow closures at Yosemite in California and Rocky Mountain in Colorado in recent days.o.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had promised last week that at parks that were still open, entrance fees would be temporarily waived to make it easier for people to get outdoors and “implement some social distancing."

He gave individual park superintendents the power to close or modify operations to adhere to health safety recommendations from the White House and Centers for Disease Control.

Other parks that remain open have closed shuttles, campgrounds, visitor centers and some trails to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The decision to close Yellowstone came after Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and local officials urged the park to keep visitors out to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said in a statement.

Great Smoky Mountains will close Tuesday through at least April 6 after park officials said social distancing efforts were not working. Around 30,000 people entered the park each day last week and some popular sites like Laurel Falls, Newfound Gap and Cades Cove were congested.

Rocky Mountain National Park closed indefinitely on Friday after a local mayor asked Bernhardt to do so to protect Estes Park, a gateway town where park visitors in pursuit of ice cream and souvenirs typically crowd the sidewalks during nice weather.

Yosemite, whose striking features like Half-Dome draws about 4 million visitors a year, closed indefinitely on Friday to all except park employees, concessionaires and residents with homes inside the park's boundaries.

Zion National Park in Utah announced Monday it is closing its campgrounds and part of a popular trail called Angel's Landing that is often crowded with people. The top part of the hike that is being closed is bordered by steep drops and ascends some 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the southern Utah park's red-rock cliffs, offering sweeping views. Park officials had previously closed shuttles used to take people through the a narrow canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park stopped its popular river trips Tuesday, in line with the suspension of river trips at other national parks such as Big Bend and Canyonlands. Several thousand people apply for about 460 annual permits for the private trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon through a lottery system. Commercial trips also are suspended.

The only other time Yellowstone has closed to all visitors aside from seasonal shutdowns was when wildfires burned over one-third of the park in 1988, Yellowstone historian Tamsen Emerson Hert said Tuesday. Tourism even continued during World War I and World War II, though the park's hotels closed, she said.

The Yellowstone closure came at a quiet time for the park. Winter season — when roads are groomed for snowmobiles, snow coaches and cross-country skiers — ended March 15. As a result, the shutdown doesn't immediately affect three other Yellowstone gateway communities — Cody and Jackson, Wyoming, and West Yellowstone, Montana — where the park's east, south and west entrances don't normally open until late April or early May.

An annual program underway to reduce the Yellowstone region's bison population by rounding up and sending some of the animals to slaughter and herd others back into the park would continue as planned, park officials said.

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Associated Press writers Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report. McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.

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